You may have missed it this year amid all the arguing about whether Nintendo should bail out of making gaming hardware and just stick to making games.
You may have missed it if the only Nintendo headlines that made an impression on you in 2013 were the ones about Wii U struggles or the company's latest line-up of sequels, sequels and, for the most part, more sequels.
You may have missed the fact that, this past summer, Nintendo quietly began perfecting a whole new genre of video games that doesn't exist—and may not be able to exist—on any Sony, Microsoft, Android or Apple machine.
Nintendo released four games that play differently than any other games anywhere. These games require the exact kind of marriage between hardware and software that Nintendo stalwarts regularly say mandates Nintendo to continue to making gaming hardware—and not just games—in order to do what Nintendo does best: make groundbreaking games.
This past summer, Nintendo began perfecting a new genre of video games that doesn't exist—and may not be able to exist—on any Sony, Microsoft, Android or Apple machine.
The four games are like nothing else out there from any of Nintendo's competitors. They're also unlike any game, with one exception, that Nintendo has ever made before. They run differently than most games. And they're one of the most innovative things Nintendo has created in a while.
The quartet of games have simple, unassuming titles: Flower Town, Warrior's Way, Mii Force and Monster Manor. They cost $5 each and they've never been featured in a TV commercial or been part of any big stage show. About the extent of any promotion Nintendo has given them is this trailer:
Collectively, you can call the quartet StreetPass games. But to know the names or know the branding doesn't really tell you much about what makes these games special. To know how they play, in the most general sense, hopefully will. At the bottom of this article, you can find videos I've shot of all four games. I talk you through each one. Watch those now or wait and read this appreciation for what Nintendo has done. I think you'll be intrigued, and possibly impressed, either way.
The four Nintendo games I'm highlighting represent nothing less than a radically different way to build and play video games, one that defies traditional singleplayer and multiplayer categorizations and which depends on an odd combination of fuels to make the games playable. They are powered by one of two things: the nearby physical presence of other gamers and/or hours of physical activity by the person who owns the game.
These games are powered by one of two things: the nearby physical presence of other gamers and/or hours of physical activity by the person who owns the game.
Let me explain how one of these games works. Consider Mii Force, a traditional sci-fi shoot-em-up that's been given a StreetPass twist. Track its lineage back to Space Invaders, Galaga, Defender and Gradius. You control a space ship that you use to shoot both airborne and ground-based enemies. The thing is that, by default, you have no guns...
Before I get too far into the weeds of Mii Force, I should mention that the StreetPass games are all on the portable Nintendo 3DS. They're handheld games and, in a literal sense, they're mobile games. They literally would not work if you didn't carry them around with you.
To play the StreetPass games and to use the 3DS' StreetPass technology in general, you must bring the system around with you. If you're playing StreetPass games, you're hoping that others are carrying their 3DS systems with them as well. As soon as a person starts using a 3DS, the system invites the user to make a little Mii avatar of themselves and to adorn that avatar in a simple outfit that includes a shirt of their favorite color. They're also encouraged to let their 3DS share StreetPass data as long as its power is on and its wireless switch is activated. Any 3DS that's activated like this will swap Mii data with other 3DS systems if the two machines are within 75 feet or so of each other. The systems can make this data exchange while they are open and running games. They can be closed and resting in people's pockets or bags. They'll still exchange data. They'll send players' Miis into each other's systems and they'll also exchange data for any games that support StreetPass.